Getting Out of Our Own Way: Weight Loss & Personal Responsibility

Humans love blame. We like pointing at someone or something and saying “it’s their fault!” This is especially true with weight and eating: it takes away our responsibility. If we aren’t in control of our circumstances, then how can we be to blame for what we did– or didn’t– do?

This is one of the most popular excuses when it comes to weight loss: “I couldn’t do it because of XYZ.”  I couldn’t eat healthy because it’s too expensive, because I didn’t have time to cook or I was too tired.  It’s the same when it comes to working out: start the litany of excuses here–  too tired, too busy, too expensive, etc.! We look at these as reasons or explanations but however you want to paint them, underneath all that whitewash they are still just excuses. We know that even if we don’t want to admit it to ourselves or anyone else.

How do I know they are excuses? Because we make the time and effort to do the things we want to do! How many of us have been “too busy” to get to the gym but we manage to make that sale at Pier 1? We are “too tired” to make a healthy dinner but we manage to stay up late enough to catch up on the Game of Thrones episodes we’ve missed?  We can’t afford the “healthy” groceries but we can still make it to TGI Fridays for beer and appetizers with our friends?

Obviously, we aren’t bad people nor are we lazy either.  Our priorities have just gotten a little skewed and rather than admit “I’d rather watch tv than go to the gym,” we come up with an excuse, as much for ourselves as for others. Most of us believe that watching tv, skipping the gym or sharing potato skins and beer with our friends means that we aren’t taking our weight and health seriously, and not putting those things first means that we’re bad people. Rather than admit to being “bad,” we create excuses and blame circumstances or other people for these supposed character flaws.

While I don’t want to give tacit permission for everyone to blow off their workouts and gobble down junk food, there is nothing wrong with taking time for yourself!  Personal responsibility doesn’t mean that you have to be “good” 24/ 7 or you are a lazy bad junk food addict: it means that you own your decisions.  If you’d rather binge some mindless tv or have a few beers with friends, then own the decision.  You are taking some time for YOU!  The problem comes when we construct an excuse rather than take responsibility for making a decision.

As Elizabeth Benton points out in her book Chasing Cupcakes [Chasing Cupcakes Book], if you have to rationalize your decision, it’s probably an excuse. No one rationalizes having Brussels sprouts instead of pizza. No one rationalizes going to the gym or passing on the beer and nachos! But switch those around and we are more than eager to explain why we had to have the pizza, beer and nachos and bail on our workout.  Owning our decisions means that we take responsibility for what we choose to do or not to do.  This means it’s an actual decision and not an excuse. You made a choice; you are not a victim of circumstance!

While this may not seem like it really matters, when it comes to weight loss, personal responsibility is extremely important.  Remember what I said at the beginning about excuses absolving us of responsibility? If we are not responsible, it means we have no power and are helpless to change our situation. It also makes it easier to confuse an excuse with a legitimate reason.

Some of you know I commute two hours for my job.  Usually, I go straight from my job to the gym on workout days, but if I am stuck in traffic and arrive late or not at all, that’s not an excuse: it’s a reason.  Had it not been for the traffic congestion, I would have made it to the workout.  If I just don’t feel like going and then blame it on the ‘bad traffic,’ that’s an excuse! There’s difference between the traffic interfering with my workout and my saying “I don’t want to go.” Do l really need a ‘reason’ not to go to my workout? Of course not! My going or not going has always been a voluntary choice but when I start giving myself excuses and believing them, I am giving away my power to control my circumstances.

There are a lot of examples of these power-stealing excuses on My 600 lb Life.  The patient hasn’t lost weight and it’s her family’s fault because they don’t want to eat healthy.  They just moved and they don’t have any way to cook healthy food so he’s had to eat takeout.  The patients complaint they are at the mercy of their family who brings them the food they eat. As Dr. Nowzaradan points out, just because the family brings them pizza, burgers & fries or chocolate cake doesn’t mean they have to eat it! “No one is shoving that food in your mouth!” We’ve all heard the expression “you can lead a horse to water but you can’t make him drink.” They are eating the junk food because they want to and using their families as the excuse not to change their eating habits.

Most of us are probably thinking, “well, duh! They eat it because they want it!” Hello, no brainer here! But for these patients, thinking that they don’t have to eat it is something of a paradigm shift.  They believe the excuses are really reasons. They really do have a choice when it comes to what they eat, whether they are at the mercy of their family or not. If the family wants pizza, they don’t have to eat it. If the family brings home burgers, again they can say no to eating burgers.  When one patient said he ate it because “I gotta eat something,” Dr. Nowzaradan’s response was “you’ve got 800 lbs of food on you– you don’t have to eat something!”

When we make excuses for not going to the gym, for eating potato chips or for pounding a pint of ice cream, we give away our power to control our decisions and make positive changes in our lives.  When we own our decisions, we are keeping that power. That doesn’t mean every decision we make will be a good one. I know I make quite a few that I really regret! But when that happens, that is my opportunity to look at it and tell myself “That was a dumb one! How can I avoid doing that again?” But when we hide behind an excuse, we turn ourselves into victims of circumstance. Instead of taking responsibility, we are at the mercy of others, be our families or the cruddy commuter traffic: “I can’t help it!”  Most of the time, that’s not true: we just don’t like feeling like a failure because of our choices. If we aren’t in control of the situation, we can’t be to blame, but when we give away our control, we can improve either. It really is our choice.

 

 

 

 

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